Richard Prebble: results may vary

By Richard Prebble In Politics

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Cartoon by Chris Slane

After reading every election prediction I could find, here’s my analysis: actual results are usually the opposite of what the professional pundits say. Forecasts of who will govern after the expected November poll generally fall into two categories. There are the partisan, from people whose predictions are what they wish for. Then there are the press gallery journalists, who believe if another journalist has said it then it must have credibility.

But repeating nonsense does not make it sensible. In a famous study by political psychology specialist Philip Tetlock of predictions of 284 people who make their living “commentating or offering advice on political and economic trends”, he found they would have been more accurate if they had tossed a coin. Their predictions were wrong most of the time. Monkeys throwing darts would do better.

Let us ignore the partisan predictions – for now. The consensus of the professionals is the election is a toss-up and will be close. So we can safely say they are wrong and there will be a clear winner. Most of the pundits seem to agree on two more predictions. The Conservatives will win a seat and Act is finished. Well, Tetlock would say they are probably wrong again.

So having decided the election result will be decisive, let us see what the facts are.

The polls are amazing. John Key is not only our most popular Prime Minister in the history of polling, but also the most popular leader in the Western world. Key is on 62%; Barack Obama is on 41%. Tony Abbott was elected in a landslide and, still in the honeymoon period, is on 47%. The Queen asks Key to Balmoral for the same reason Obama asks him to play golf: they like him. Heck, I like him. There is no one we would rather have in charge in a crisis.


Key has an advantage, which I do not like. He could easily be a Labour Prime Minister. He occupies the same part of the political spectrum as Helen Clark. National has kept all Labour’s income transfers and increased the proportion of taxes paid by the wealthiest New Zealanders. Who believes Labour would not have done a deal to build an Auckland Convention Centre, the broadband fibre rollout or to have the Avatar movies made here? Does David Cunliffe realise how petty he sounds objecting to a royal tour by two future kings because it’s election year? I bet he turns up for the photo op.

It’s no surprise that Cunliffe in the December DigiPoll is on 16.5% support as preferred Prime Minister. He is yet to reach David Shearer’s 18.5%. Labour in December at 35.4% is trailing the 36.4% the party reached in March. In contrast, Bill Shorten, the new leader of the Australian Labor Party, has a 44% satisfaction score and his party would win an Australian election. Here, in the party leadership contest, a majority of Labour MPs, like a majority of Labour voters in the polls, agree that Cunliffe is not prime ministerial material.

Cunliffe won the race saying all Labour has to do is persuade the “missing million” voters to vote this election. This is the reason for a string of promises. The unions and Labour activists supported him because they have a fantasy that Labour failed to get elected because it is not left enough.

No election has ever been won by going to the left, and 2014 will be no different. People do not stay away from the polls because they think the manifest is not radical enough. Voters stay at home because they think all politicians are liars. Voter turnout is falling all over the Western world. Cunliffe talks and looks like a politician. The more promises he makes, the worse it gets. But here is another thought: perhaps those voters stayed at home because they, too, like Key.

Clark believed Labour could never be elected with the Greens. She would not have Green MPs in her Cabinet. Labour under Cunliffe has adopted Green Party policies from capital gains taxes to the living wage to central planning of the electricity market. Labour and the Greens are in a de facto coalition.

Russel Norman has New Zealand citizenship but he still talks and thinks like an Aussie. The reason we have one of the best-performing economies in the OECD is because of dairying. The idea we can abandon dairying to “lead the world” in sustainable energy is nonsense. A Labour-Green coalition is unelectable.


Every election there is a new party or an old party revived. One election it was Peter Dunne’s United and last election it was the revival of New Zealand First. These “new” parties are largely the creations of a media looking for something fresh. First choice for 2014 was the Conservative Party. Key cannot give a seat to a man who thinks 9/11 was an inside job. The pagan press says the Conservatives will get the “Christian” vote. They won’t. Leader Colin Craig has repeatedly said he is not a regular churchgoer. Evangelical pastors think that rather important.

Now the media is promoting Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party, but the show-stopper is that a German cannot stand for Parliament.

Lost mojo? Winston Peters. Photo/Glenn Taylor

Why vote for Craig or Dotcom when there’s Winston, who does know man has landed on the Moon, and is a New Zealander? MPs tell me Winston has lost his mojo. Maybe, but he has not lost his campaigning ability. The latest census says New Zealand has become the most ethnically diverse land on Earth. What is surprising is not the NZ First vote but that it is not higher. In the December DigiPoll, Winston recorded 7.3% support as preferred Prime Minister. It’s a brave punter who will bet against him getting a similar vote. Labour’s unofficial coalition with the Greens will see Labour voters who agree with Winston that the Greens are dangerous fruit loops deserting to NZ First.

What of the Maori Party? Now Te Ururoa Flavell has the leadership, he does not know where to take the party. Both Mana and Maori Party supporters want their parties to merge. No one can work with Hone Harawira, so both parties are reduced to single seats and irrelevancy.

For United Future, the inquiry into the leaked GCSB report might be an email too far for Dunne.

Does Act have a future? Here I am a partisan commentator. Parliament needs at least one party that does not believe more government is the answer to every problem. Act has to start again. It may have found the man to do it. Jamie Whyte was a philosophy lecturer at Cambridge University before – like Key – becoming a currency trader, then returning to New Zealand to enter politics. I predict Epsom voters will want to do their bit to keep a Key Government.

But in the end it’s the economy. Christmas sales were up over 7%. Wages are rising and unemployment falling. Interest rates are likely to rise but off a record low. The trade balance is improving. The Government books are coming back into balance. The list goes on. Why change a winning team?

Richard Prebble is a former Labour Cabinet minister and leader of the Act Party. Jane Clifton is on holiday.

See also: A tale of two stories, by Josie Pagani. Whoever spins the best yarn is likely to win the election.

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One Response to “Richard Prebble: results may vary”

  1. Graeme Edgeler Jan 16 2014, 12:41pm

    "The latest census says New Zealand has become the most ethnically diverse land on Earth."

    Not even close.
    Report Report

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